Legislative Update Week 10 - March 18, 2016

GAHouseSeal.pngBy Representative Jeff Jones

The House reconvened on Monday, March 14 for day 36 of the 2016 legislative session and an extremely busy week, as sine die (the 40th and final day of the 2016 session) is just days away. We had a busy legislative agenda this week, both on the House floor and in committee meetings as we continued to review, study and vote on legislation. With day 40 right around the corner, many more House and Senate bills received final passage this week and are now on their way to Governor Deal’s desk for consideration.

Free Exercise Protection Act HB 757 (I voted YES; passed 104 to 65)

In my short time as your State Representative, it seems that each year there is a singularly important and perhaps historic legislation that dominates the General Assembly session.  During 2015, it was the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 with its record-setting $900 million tax increase.  This year, it was debate about how to best protect the religious liberty of all Georgians, regardless of faith or lack thereof.  This discussion has been on-going in Georgia for many years.

Proponents and supporters of religious liberty legislation cite the need to protect individuals, businesses, pastors and others from being forced to participate in activities that are in opposition to their closely and deeply held religious beliefs.  Sadly, the need for religious liberty protection is clearly founded in the actions of those, particularly from the LGBTQA+ community, who would seek to force businesses, such as florists and bakeries, to sell flowers or to bake cakes for gay wedding ceremonies and when they refuse, these businesses have been forced out of business.

Pastors are being forced to take a legal and theological stand in opposition to performing gay wedding ceremonies because doing so is a direct contradiction to their biblical and religious beliefs, and when they refuse there are those who then take legal action against the pastors.  There certainly are churches and denominations who accept and willingly perform gay weddings.  This is their right to do so. The problem is when those who believe in gay wedding ceremonies try to legally force their beliefs upon those who disagree.

There are strong forces in the business community who say that Georgia, by its passage of this act is demonstrating blatant discrimination against others who disagree with their religious beliefs.  This argument is patently false.

In the 30 states that have passed Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) there has not been one single case of proven discrimination as a result of RFRA’s passage.  The argument otherwise is simply untrue.

This is why passage of the Free Exercise Protection Act is important for all Georgians – to protect every citizen of Georgia in the exercise of their religious beliefs. And this is why I enthusiastically supported the passage of the Free Exercise Protection Act.

For more details on this historic legislation please click here.


 Now, all that is needed is for Governor Deal to sign this historic legislation into law. You may show your support by contacting the Governor's office at 404-656-1776.


The Pool Bill HB 219 (I voted YES)

Recently I announced that House Bill 219, legislation I sponsored regarding public and private pools, received final passage in the State Senate. HB 219 will now to go Governor Deal for consideration.  

I am pleased that the General Assembly recognized the importance of clarifying private property rights regarding swimming pools and for strengthening the safety of private pools in condos, townhouses and other private pools that serve a small number of property owners.

HB 219 clarifies and redefines public versus private property pools for purposes of health and safety, and the legislation I drafted was in response to a problem with unreasonable inspections of private pools in Glynn County. The bill also strengthens the basic standards and minimum safety requirements for private pools by establishing a list of five key safety items that must pass an annual inspection: compliance with federal law regarding suction outlet covers; availability of lifesaving and rescue equipment; security of access to common pool areas; water quality; and safety of electrical systems.

The bill makes no changes to health and safety rules governing apartment complex pools, or private residence pools, nor does the bill change any existing pool construction codes for the State of Georgia.

The passage of HB 219 is the result of two years of negotiations and discussions with the Georgia Department of Health, the Georgia Realtors Association, the Georgia Apartment Association and the Georgia Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. A special thanks to Jimmy Pruett, Chairman of the House State Planning & Community Affairs Committee, who helped to resolve concerns of the Department of Public Health and see this bill through the legislative process.

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Campus Carry HB 859 (I voted YES)

Without a doubt, this is a troubling time in America. Mass shootings have been happening with seemingly greater intensity. HB 859, the “campus carry” bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), would permit 21 year old, licensed concealed carry permit holders to carry a concealed weapon on Georgia’s publicly funded college campuses, but not in dorms or at athletic events. The following is my publicly stated position on this very difficult issue.

First, let me share some eye-opening statistics about deaths occurring as a result of mass shootings in America from the FBI: Active Shooter Study (PDF)

  • 14.3  =  number of deaths, on average, in mass shootings when everyone in the victim group is unarmed.
  • 2.3  =  number of deaths, on average, in mass shootings when at least one person in the victim group is armed.

The statistics are similar throughout the country. Cities and states with the toughest gun laws have the highest number of deaths due to gun violence and have the highest overall violent crime rates. Alternatively, cities and states that allow concealed carry permits have the lowest number of deaths due to gun violence and have the lowest overall violent crime rates.

While I certainly do not like what our society has turned into, the facts are clear: licensed concealed carry permit holders are among the most law abiding citizens in our great country, and they help to keep the rest of our citizens safe.

As I mentioned, the campus carry bill would only allow licensed concealed carry permit holders over 21 to carry their weapon on campus, but not in dorms or at athletic events.  I agree with the premise that allowing college students who are licensed concealed carry permit holders to be armed on campus will reduce the number of deaths occurring in these tragic, horrific situations.

Quality Based Education Act HB 364 (I voted YES)

This week, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 364, the “Quality Based Education Act,” to revise annual performance evaluations for public school teachers and state mandated testing. SB 364 revises evaluations so that student growth would account for 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, down from the current 50 percent. Additionally, professional growth would account for 20 percent, and the test component of teacher evaluations is lowered from 70 percent to 40 percent. The bill would also reduce the number of state mandated tests from 32 to 24 for students in grades K-12 by removing social studies and science milestone tests in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7. SB 364 would also ask local school systems to move all testing as close to the end of the school year as possible to ensure the students have received maximum exposure to the material prior to testing. SB 364 also adds formative testing in 1st and 2nd grades to measure progress and early learning to guarantee that all students are proficient in reading by 3rd grade and proficient in math by 5th grade. The bill is the result of multiple meetings with teachers, administrators, parents, and advocacy groups from across the state who gave input and opinions on what should be revised in the current evaluation and testing systems.

This legislation will give our teachers more freedom to teach Georgia’s students and will take the burden off both students and teachers. Our teachers greatly influence the youth in our state, and as such, we want to provide them with the resources to have the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom so that our students have the best opportunity to succeed in the future.

Drug Abuse Treatment and Education Programs SB 402 (I voted YES)

Another bill that received unanimous passage in the House this week was Senate Bill 402, legislation that would place a moratorium on new applications for licensure of narcotic treatment programs and create a commission to study the current licensure requirements in Georgia. While current license holders would be eligible to renew their license during the moratorium, SB 402 would put a temporary freeze on issuing new narcotic treatment facility licenses through June 30, 2017. During this time, the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs, established under this bill, would study the need for any changes to the licensure requirements for these programs to ensure the safety of Georgia’s citizens. The commission would be tasked with examining the current narcotic treatment program licensure requirements for adequacy; assessing how the current licensure requirements and enforcement of the requirements provide adequate medical, counseling, vocational, educational, mental health assessment, and social services to patients enrolled in these programs and how these programs can be assessed for achieving recovery; determining if the geographic service areas are reasonable and balanced between population density and service proximity; determining the cause and effect of hospital admittance for overdose and incidents of suicide, if any, in relation to the adequate licensure and oversight of these programs; and hearing expert testimony on the effectiveness of nonnarcotic, medically assisted treatments for narcotic dependence and determining what legislative changes, if any, need to be made to address the commission’s findings.

The commission would be comprised of three members from both the House and the Senate, appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor, and five members appointed by the Governor, including the commissioner of the Department of Community Health and the commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Georgia ranks third in the nation for the highest number of narcotic treatment clinics with 62 clinics, despite the fact that we are eighth in total population. I am hopeful that this legislation will provide a solution to the increasing number of drug abuse and overdoses we see each year and ultimately save lives. There is a vital need for these treatment centers, but we must also get to the root of the issue and find out why there are so many of these facilities in Georgia.  

Fireworks Excise Taxes SB 350 (I voted YES)

We also passed Senate Bill 350 and Senate Resolution 558 this week, which would allocate tax revenue from firework sales in our state to Georgia trauma centers, fire services, and local public safety purposes. SB 350 would allocate 55 percent of the excise tax revenues from all fireworks sales in Georgia to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, which was created in 2007 to maintain a trauma center network, coordinate existing trauma facilities and direct patients to the best available facility for their needs. Additionally, 40 percent of the excise tax revenues collected from firework sales would go to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Commission, which provides certification standards for all firefighters, fire inspectors, fire investigators and fire and life safety educators. The funds would be used to implement a grant program to improve the equipping and training of firefighters and the rating of fire departments by the Insurance Services Office.

Finally, five percent of the tax revenues would go to local governments to be used for public safety purposes and the operation of 9-1-1 systems. Senate Resolution 558 is the companion legislation to SB 350 and would amend the Georgia Constitution in order to allocate the excise tax funds, if approved by voter referendum on the November ballot. During the 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing the commercial sale and use of fireworks in Georgia. Should these measures receive final passage through the General Assembly and passage from Georgia voters in November, we would be able to provide a beneficial and much needed funding to the trauma, fire, and local government networks in our state by granting them the flexibility to improve and continue providing exceptional service to all Georgians.

Family Violence Act SB 193 (I voted YES)

The House also passed a measure this week to toughen the penalties for criminals who commit domestic violence in Georgia. Senate Bill 193 would make it a felony if a person commits family violence and has a previous conviction for family violence battery in Georgia, or in any other state. Prosecutors would be able to issue repeat family violence offenders a felony instead of another misdemeanor, closing a loophole that previously allowed some offenders to receive misdemeanor charges upon their second family battery conviction. The bill would also make the crime punishable by one to five years in prison.  This legislation would strengthen our judicial system and punish violent, serial criminals, while also protecting those who they seek to harm.

Georgia Spaceflight Act (Spaceport Camden) HB 734 (I voted YES)

Unfortunately the Senate did not pass the Georgia Space Flight Act but instead placed the issue into a space bill study committee.  According to Rep. Jason Spencer (D180-Woodbine), the Senate’s decision to move the bill into a study committee was based on issues and jurisdiction that are not under state control.

HB734, the Georgia Space Flight Act, passed the House with overwhelming support (I voted YES). After the bill moved into the Senate, the Senate Science & Technology committee decided to place the bill into a Senate study committee after spending approximately 90 minutes discussing the legislation. The Senate’s primary focus was on the Federal Aviation Administration’s launch licensing process and applicable federal regulations as well as county zoning issues should the launch site be approved by the FAA, all of which are not under the control of the State of Georgia. Rep. Spencer pledges to bring the legislation before the General Assembly in 2017.

Criminal Justice Reform for DUI Offenders SB 367 (I voted YES)

This week we passed another bill to keep Georgians safe in Senate Bill 367, a comprehensive update to Georgia’s criminal justice reform legislation. SB 367 would expand Georgia’s accountability courts to include “operating under the influence” court divisions as an alternative to the traditional justice system with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism rates. Any court with jurisdiction over DUI or boating under the influence cases would be able to create a division of their courts to handle those cases. Similarly, any juvenile court would be able to create a “family treatment” court division to address issues within families through court intervention and the reduction of dependency. The goal of a family treatment court would be to reduce alcohol or drug abuse and addiction in child dependency proceedings; improve outcomes for families when dependency is based on alcohol or drug use and addiction; increase the personal, familial and societal accountability of defendants in child dependency proceedings; and promote effective intervention and use of resources among child welfare personnel, law enforcement, treatment providers, community agencies, and the courts. SB 367 would also allow the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice to operate charter schools within state juvenile justice facilities under the control of the State Charter School Commission to allow children who are incarcerated to continue to receive an education.

Furthermore, individuals who have a suspended license as a result of a criminal conviction would be able to receive their license sooner under SB 367 by allowing time spent in prison to count toward license suspension time. The bill would also add court-mandated activities such as attending programs, treatment, and accountability court to the list of limited driving exemptions for drivers with limited driving permits. SB 367 would change the Georgia First Offender Statute to allow courts to set a date at when a defendant would be exonerated of guilt and have their criminal record restricted as long as the defendant successfully complies with the sentence and does not receive future convictions. The bill also updates probation stipulations if an individual fails to pay a fine or report to their probation officer and will now include a scheduled hearing in court. The legislation would also let inmates who have served sentences for certain drug-related offenses or repeat offenders of non-violent felonies be eligible for parole if they had no convictions for violent felonies; completed at least six years of their total sentence; were considered a low risk for recidivism; earned a high school diploma; and had no serious disciplinary violations in the past 12 months in jail. Those convicted of felony drug convictions would now be allowed to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits upon their release to help ease the transition to re-entry. Finally, the bill would prohibit professional licensing boards from refusing to license an individual because of an arrest or conviction of a felony unless it directly related to the occupation they were attempting to be licensed. Legislative efforts over the past several years have made Georgia a national leader in criminal justice reform, and the modifications in SB 367 are a further example of how we can continue to be smart on crime, keep the citizens of Georgia safe, and help those who re-enter to become productive members of society. Providing alternatives to incarceration in the form of education and treatment not only allow our non-violent offenders to have a second chance at life, but will decrease recidivism rates. These efforts serve to make Georgia a safer place for all of our citizens, and I am proud of this body and the work we have done to offer those protections to our state.

Other bills that passed the House floor this week:

SB 206, by Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), revises provisions relating to the prohibition of a water supplier's option to disconnect water service to premises because of the indebtedness of a prior owner, occupant, or lessee. The bill provides a procedure to obtain information regarding moneys owed for water supplied to certain real property under certain circumstances.  SB 206 exempts any property from the refusal to supply water because of the indebtedness of the prior occupant. A new section is added to current law setting forth that any property owner or tenant, person executing a contract for the purchase or occupancy of property, attorney closing a real estate transaction, or lender considering the loan of funds to be secured by real property shall have the right to request a statement from the water supplier setting forth the amount of any outstanding water charges along with any late fees with interest.  Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island) spoke in support of the bill. He indicated that ACCG, GMA, the Georgia Realtors Association, and others are in support of this legislation. There was one amendment, but it was withdrawn.

SR 730, by Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), encourages the Coastal Regional Commission to create a comprehensive plan for and oversee the implementation of the Coastal Georgia Greenway and to create and file an annual report with the General Assembly detailing its progress.  I presented this bill before the House where it passed with a vote of 149-18.

SB 263, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), allows for the governing authority of each municipality and county in this state, as well as each board of education, which employs sworn police officer who are POST certified to adopt policies under which officers may retain their weapon or badge upon retirement or leaving employment as a result of a disability arising in the line of duty. It passed the House today with a vote of 123-46.

SR 876, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), was carried in the House by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville).   It seeks to establish a Joint High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians Study Committee.  No changes were made in the House Special Rules Committee where this Resolution had been assigned. This resolution passed 166-0.

Recognizing Georgia Heroes – Henry “Hank” Aaron

This week, we also had a special guest stop by the House. On Monday, we were honored to have Atlanta Braves legend Henry “Hank” Aaron and his wife Billye join us on the House floor, where we recognized the couple for their work in the community. Hank Aaron played 21 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and completed his career with two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. During his 23 year career, Aaron was an MLB All-Star for 21 seasons, still holding many records for most All-Star selections, a three-time Golden Glove right fielder, and the 1957 National League Most Valuable Player. Despite receiving many awards throughout his long career, Aaron is probably best remembered for his 715th homerun on April 8, 1974 which broke the previous home run record held by Babe Ruth. Since his retirement from baseball, Hank and Billye Aaron have been very active in their community, working with the Andrew Young Foundation and the Morehouse School of Medicine to advance the education of African-American citizens. Their commitment to the community is inspiring, and it was an honor to meet such a legendary couple.

Wrapping Up the 2016 Session

Next week will be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. On Thursday, March 24 we will convene one final time this session for legislative day 40, or “sine die,” the last day we have to pass any legislation this year. While the end is near, there is still work to be done and many issues to be considered, and your input on these issues is very important to me. My colleagues and I will work long hours every day next week to ensure that we are doing what is best for Georgia and its citizens. If you are following legislation that you would like to see passed, or if you have any questions about the bills that the General Assembly has considered this session, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Your input will help guide my decisions during this crucial time, and I appreciate all of your feedback. You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0126 or by email at Jeff.Jones@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing be to be your representative.

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Representative Jeff Jones


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